Cupertino tech giant Apple might finally have to do away with its long-standing tradition of using a lightning port on iPhones. European Union lawmakers have reached an agreement on a legislation that requires all small and medium-sized electronics devices to be equipped with the universal USB Type-C port for wired charging.
The legislation requires all devices sold in the EU, especially smartphones, to use USB-C port by fall 2024. The legislation comes as a blow to Apple, which is the only major smartphone maker to not use USB-C port on its iPhone. The iPhone maker has begun equipping some of its iPad models with USB Type-C port.
EU makes USB-C the default charging port
The lawmakers in the European Union have been discussing a mandate for an universal charging port for more than a decade. Now, they have reached an agreement on the scope of this mandate following negotiations between different EU bodies.
The biggest impact of this mandate will be on Apple, which IDC estimates shipped a total of 235.7 million iPhones in 2021. All of these models were equipped with Apple’s proprietary lightning port. The mandate will also impact e-readers like Amazon Kindle, which tends to use microUSB port for charging.
Other devices that come under this purview include tablets, digital cameras, headphones, and handheld video game consoles. “Today we have made the common charger a reality in Europe!,” says European Parliament’s rapporteur Alex Agius Saliba in a press statement.
We have reached a deal on the common charger! ????????— IMCO Committee Press (@EP_SingleMarket) June 7, 2022
✔️mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, digital cameras & more #USBtypeC
✔️harmonised fast-charging technology
✔️unbundling of sale of chargers from the sale of device
???? Press conference at 12.30 CEST ➡️ https://t.co/TCBXxzIEdr pic.twitter.com/29JmeL0nxe
“European consumers were frustrated long with multiple chargers piling up with every new device. Now they will be able to use a single charger for all their portable electronics.”
With this legislation, the European Union has formalised its intent to make USB-C port the universal port for wired charging. The legislation will need to be approved by the EU Parliament and Council later this year. In a press release, the European Parliament revealed its plan to pass the legislation “by autumn 2024.”
An attempt to cut down e-waste
The attempt to standardise the charging port for small and medium-sized electronic devices is not designed to single out any manufacturer. With this legislation, the EU is aiming to cut down on e-waste and make life easier for consumers. The EU lawmakers had the foresight to see a future where smartphones and similar devices will not come with a charger in the box.
We have already seen the likes of Apple and Samsung stop including chargers with their newest devices. Apple and Samsung believe that their customers will already have the necessary accessory at home to charge their newest devices.
One of the easiest ways to reduce e-waste has been to extend the life of existing devices and reduce use of common accessories. The EU is bringing these virtues to life with its legislation that EU estimates will lead to savings of around €250M per year on “unnecessary charger purchases.” It further estimates that disposed of and unused chargers represent about 11,000 tonnes of e-waste annually.
Will it force Apple to switch to USB Type-C port?
During a press conference yesterday, the EU legislators were asked if their common charger rule targets Apple specifically. This notion was immediately dismissed by Thierry Breton, commission for the EU’s internal market.
“The rule applies to all and sundry. It’s not adopted against anybody,” said Breton. “We’re working for the consumers, not the companies, and we have to give these companies rules; rules that are clear in order to enter the internal market.”
While the legislation was being drafted, Apple became a dominant force lobbying against EU’s attempts to force USB-C on all devices. “We remain concerned that strict regulation mandating just one type of connector stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, which in turn will harm consumers in Europe and around the world,” a spokesperson told Reuters last year.
Apple has argued that forcing companies to switch to USB-C will result in more e-waste rather than reduce it. The iPhone maker also claims that this will result in its existing ecosystem of Lightning accessories becoming dormant and thus disposed of e-waste.
Despite the pressure from Apple, the European Commission announced in September last year that it will go ahead with its planned legislation. “In two years’ time, if Apple wants to sell their products within our internal market they have to abide by our rules, and their device will have to be USB-C,” adds Saliba.
The legislation may not have a dramatic impact on Apple despite the law looking like an attempt to single out the Cupertino-based company. Apple is estimated to have sold only 56 million iPhones in Europe last year. When Huawei was blocked from using Google services, it was expected that Apple would eat into its market share.
However, other Chinese smartphone makers capitalised on the vacuum left by Huawei. According to Counterpoint Research, Apple was the second largest smartphone vendor in Europe in 2021 with a market share of 22 per cent. Samsung leads with a market share of 32 per cent while Xiaomi occupies the third place with a 14 per cent market share.
The law should be seen as the precursor to Apple eventually switching to USB-C port on iPhones as well. The company has already brought the USB-C port to select iPads. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has claimed that Apple could switch to USB-C port as early as next year.